Illustrating oil palms

This is the 4th post in a series of images that didn’t make the cut for inclusion in Oil Palm: a Global History (coming June 2021).

It’s a plate from Jacquin’s Selectarum stirpium Americanarum (1763), showing an oil palm, a single fruit, and a kernel. Jacquin gave the tree a Linnaean name, Elaeis Guineensis.

The first part comes from a Greek word for oil; the second part points to the tree’s homeland in Guinea, or West Africa.

Jacquin didn’t draw the tree in Africa, though. He saw it in Martinique, and remarked that is was not very common in the Americas. You can read an original 1763 edition here (it’s in Latin!).

I included an earlier drawing from Elizabeth Blackwell’s Curious Herbal (1737-1739) in the book (see image at the top of this post). Blackwell drew from samples brought to England, and her sketches show oil palm fruit clusters, and the interior of a palm kernel. She uses an older Latin name for the tree, Palma oleosa, the “oily palm tree.”

The book was a landmark herbary, and the proceeds from it helped bail her deadbeat husband out of debtor’s prison. (He went to abandon her in England, move to Sweden, and get himself executed for treason.) Read more about Blackwell here:

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